Great bon dancing and exciting taiko drumming will take place in downtown Hilo on Saturday, Aug. 3, at Taishoji Soto Zen Temple at 275 Kinoole St., next to McDonald’s. Bon dancing will be an exciting evening of traditional and modern Japanese folk dances that arrived in Hawaii with the Japanese immigrant sugar cane workers more than a century ago.
Old O-Bon season favorites will include “Fukushima Ondo” and “Tanko Bushi.” New songs and dances have also been added, for example “Pokemon” and “Beautiful Sunday,” said spokesman Walter Tachibana.
“Originally a solemn Buddhist observance, O-Bon is based on the Ullambana tradition, Sanskrit for ‘hanging upside-down’ (meaning much suffering and pain). As the tradition moved from India to China and Japan, the term became ‘Urabon-e’ and ‘bon.’ It is a time for paying respect and practicing charity to departed friends and relatives. In Bon, the living express concern and gratitude to the departed so that they will continue to rest in peace,” explained Tachibana.
About 2,500 years ago, one of the Buddha’s top two disciples — Moggallana (or Mokuren, in Japanese) — saw a vision of his own mother, recently deceased, suffering in the World of Hungry Devils (Hell) because of her wrongdoings in the previous life.
“Shocked and saddened by his discovery, Mokuren tried to save her from the unbearable suffering and pain by offering her some food in a bowl. However, as soon as she touched the bowl, the food turned into fire. In desperation, Mokuren, the dutiful son, went to Buddha for advice,” said Tachibana. “The Buddha said that his dear mother had been so bad that Mokuren could not possibly save her by himself. However, since July 15 is the last day of monks’ training and, therefore, they will have a period of rest, Mokuren should invite them all and serve food to them, (then) ‘by the good action of your giving to others, your mother will be saved from the hell of hunger.’”
“Mokuren did so, and so saved his mother. Being overjoyed by his experience, Mokuren learned that others can help their beloveds by doing something positive, such as positive giving. It would enable the dead to be reborn into a better and happier state of being,” he said.
“Originally, bon dances were held at cemeteries to welcome back the spirits of the departed for a reunion with family members and relatives. Thus, it is to the departed, especially those who passed away since the last bon dance, that the bon dance is dedicated,” Tachibana explained. “Today, we observe bon dance slightly differently. Bon dancing gives us a chance to think about the way we can live happily and harmoniously with our family members, both living and departed, and with others in the community. It is a time for us to harmonize physically with the rhythms of the music and spiritually with the lessons of Shakamuni Buddha (the historical Buddha).”
Taishoji’s Bon Dance will start at 7 p.m. with a short service in the temple and on the “yagura” stand. Dancing begins at about 7:30 p.m.
“The ever-exciting Taishoji Taiko group will perform live music for the popular ‘Fukushima Ondo’ dance, and they will put on a spectacular special show at about 9 p.m. A food booth will be offering a variety of Zen delights,” said Tachibana. The public is welcome.
On Sunday, Aug. 4, the O-Bon Service will start at 9 a.m. and a Special Hatsu-bon Service, for the recently departed, will be observed for the families at about 10 a.m.
Later at dusk on the same day, Taishoji will conduct its traditional Toro-nagashi Ceremony (Parade of Floating Lanterns) at the Wailoa River Boat Ramp. Temple members will assemble their “floating lanterns” at 5 p.m. and the Taishoji Taiko will put on a drumming performance at 5:30. Then at 6 p.m., a short religious service and the strains of “Aloha ‘’Oe” will set off the flotilla of floating lanterns. Due to gasoline fire hazards in the small boat area, as well as environmental concerns, no homemade floating lanterns are allowed. But the public is welcome to watch.
For more information, please call the Rev. Myoshin Lang at 935-8407.